Persistent Questions About Vegetative States

Last Saturday a firefighter diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” for ten years began to recognize people and talk. Several months ago a woman diagnosed as being in a “minimally conscious state” for 20 years began to talk and carry on conversations and says she was aware of the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. (Read the story here.)

My greatest frustration with the Terri Schiavo case was the refusal of her husband to allow further testing and therapy to confirm or improve his wife’s condition and the Kafkaesque position of the courts to give credence to the diagnosis of one less than impartial neurosurgeon while steadfastly ignoring testimony from other neurosurgeons, radiologists and Terri’s caregivers when deciding a case of life and death. Meanwhile most of the general public thought “I wouldn’t want to live like that” – no doubt based in part on the assumption that after all these years there was little hope for improvement – and turned away.

Granted, the cases mentioned in the link above are rare, which is why they were publicized at all. (I also find it interesting that neither of the people mentioned above, upon regaining consciousness and the ability to speak, apparently has said, “Why didn’t you just kill me?”)

We don’t know how high the odds would have been for a similar recovery by Terri, mainly because there was never an independent evaluation of her condition. We do know her parents were willing to care for her no matter how long it took.

Would Terri, too, have started to speak in another 20 years, 10 years – two weeks? That’s a question for which we will now never have an answer. It is a question, however, that I hope Michael Schiavo, George Felos and Judge Greer ask themselves everyday for the rest of their lives.

2 thoughts on “Persistent Questions About Vegetative States

  1. Thanks, Mike. I checked out your blog and like that, too. I see we both have Portia Rediscovered on our blogrolls – is that how you found me?


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